SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — California will bar law enforcement from using strangleholds and require the state attorney general’s office to investigate fatal police shootings of unarmed people under a pair of bills signed Wednesday by Governor Gavin Newsom.
The reforms were introduced in wake of the death of George Floyd and survived a truncated legislative session in which several other high-profile policing proposals sputtered.
Newsom said the carotid hold ban and increased transparency over officer-involved shootings reflect the state’s commitment to transforming its broken criminal justice system.
“I hope people recognize we’re moving in the right direction,” Newsom said during a virtual signing ceremony. “We are not walking away from that responsibility.”
In the weeks after a white Minneapolis police officer choked and smothered Floyd to death in broad daylight Memorial Day weekend, Newsom called on lawmakers to send him a ban on the use of the controversial technique. The Democratic governor said the hold, designed to slow blood flow to the brain that can be deadly if executed improperly, no longer had a place in law enforcement’s arsenal.
Following the lead of law enforcement agencies across the state and country, Assemblyman Mike Gipson, D-Carson, responded with Assembly Bill 1196.
“This bill is in response to the murder, the execution of George Floyd by the people who took an oath of office to serve and protect their community,” Gipson said of the motivation for his bill.
Newsom also put the finishing touches on a law requiring the state to investigate anytime an officer shoots and kills an unarmed civilian.
Assembly Bill 1506 creates a standardized process that shifts ultimate responsibility over investigating police killings from local prosecutors to the state attorney general’s office. Critics have long resented the supreme role district attorneys play in such investigations and claim AB 1506 will remove conflicts of interest.
Previous versions of the bill were rejected in recent years, but the bill’s author says Newsom’s signature represents a clear win for accountability and transparency. As with the carotid chokehold ban, Floyd’s death helped finally push AB 1506 across the finish line, said Assemblyman Kevin McCarty.
“No one trusts the transparency, accountability, or oversight; there’s just too much distrust,” said McCarty, D-Sacramento.
McCarty says California will join five other states already mandating independent review of cases of deadly force. California’s law requires the attorney general’s office to submit a report on each case and if necessary, initiate criminal proceedings. The bill also allows local agencies to ask the California Department of Justice to officially review their deadly use of force guidelines and make suggestions.
Calls for independent review over police killings spiked earlier this summer after a Vallejo police officer shot through his windshield with a rifle and killed an unarmed person of color. The police department’s questionable handling of the shooting prompted the city to ask for an investigation by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.
Supporters of AB 1506 included district attorneys from Los Angeles, San Diego and Sacramento, while the California Police Chiefs Association and California State Sheriffs Association were opposed.
California is also making major changes to its juvenile justice system, shifting responsibility for housing and rehabilitating minor offenders from the state to the county level.
Newsom signed budget legislation that bars the Division of Juvenile Justice from taking in new offenders after July 1, 2021, and gives future oversight over youth rehabilitation practices to the Health and Human Services Agency.
Proponents say closing down juvenile halls and keeping minors in county facilities better suited to give trauma-informed care is a more humane approach to juvenile justice.
“It is monumental for juvenile justice in California,” said state Senator Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley. “They need help that can diagnose a learning disability or other underlying mental and physical health issues.”
Newsom also approved a bill mandating that a minor consult with a lawyer before waiving their Miranda rights or consenting to an interrogation.
Hours before a constitutionally mandated deadline, Newsom also authorized a comprehensive study of the lingering effects of slavery and potential reparations for Black Californians.
Assembly Bill 3121 calls for the creation of a nine-member task force to examine ways to atone for the state’s racist policies and actions dating back to the abolition of slavery. Supporters say the goal is to illuminate the state’s “shameful history” and spur socioeconomic change in the Golden State.
“This state has deeply rooted issues about race and slavery,” said Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D- San Diego.
Weber, whose parents were sharecroppers in Arkansas and moved her to California at the age of three, said it is critical for California to lead the way on racial justice. One of 10 Black lawmakers in the 120-member Legislature, Weber noted AB 3121 is the first-of-its-kind and was approved with bipartisan support.
The task force will be composed of appointees from the governor and the leaders of the state Senate and Assembly, and will have one year from its first meeting to produce a report for the Legislature. The new law requires the task force include at least four people from outside the Legislature and be comprised of a mixture of Democrats and Republicans.
Along with AB 3121, Newsom signed another Weber proposal that requires attorneys seeking to remove a potential juror to offer evidence that the challenge isn’t tied to the person’s race, ethnicity or gender.
The former professor also played a key role in the Legislature’s decision to place an initiative on the November ballot that tasks voters with deciding whether to reimplement affirmative action admissions and hiring practices at state colleges and agencies.
Weber said that while her bills were proposed prior to the pandemic and Floyd’s death, the pressing issues in the current climate only reinforce the importance of enacting the laws.
“Some people think we’re just responding to the moment; we’re responding to the history of California and the life of Black people in California and in this nation that has to be addressed every day,” Weber said.
Newsom capped off the signing spree with Assembly Bill 979, which requires publicly held corporations based in California to diversify their boards or face fines. The measure mandates that by the end of 2021, corporations have at least one director who identifies as Black, Hispanic, Asian, Pacific Islander, Native American, Native Hawaiian, Alaska Native or LGBT.